It’s Saturday morning, and I’m trying to ignore the empty chair at the head of our table.
In front of me, china plates carry the weight of yam and scrambled eggs, guarded by one tall glass of grape juice— my usual weekend breakfast. We eat in silence, my mother and I, like this is normal, like things have always been this way.
After two or three forced bites from her meal, she clears her throat and asks,
“Don’t you like the food?”
“It’s fine.” I poke the same piece of yam I’ve been playing with for the past five minutes.
“But you haven’t even touched your juice. Is grape no longer your favorite?”
I suppress a sigh then bring the cup to my lips. It smells funny, so I know the juice is stale, but I take a deep breath and drink it all.
“It tastes good,” I tell her, once I’ve emptied the glass.
She smiles at me. “Thank God. I was worried it had gone bad or something since it’s the same bottle from last week.” She chuckles and pours some for herself. “I don’t know why I forgot to go to the supermarket.”
Because he used to be the one who bought the groceries. But I won’t bring it up.
The doorbell rings, and we both drop our forks.
It rings again, this time its echoing ding dong stretching over the room like overworked rubber ready to snap. My mother looks up at me.
I get up and walk to the entrance, drying my sweaty palms on my jeans. As I pull the door open, I look away from his face and focus instead on the buttons of his Polo shirt.
“Welcome sir,” I say then move back to the dining table before he gets the chance to hug me or touch me or say anything that would fill the emptiness of our house, even for only a second.
I try to make eye contact with my mum as I sit back down, but she doesn’t look up from the piece of yam she’s trying to cut up.
“Kunle.” They acknowledge each other’s presence as a mere courtesy. No more sweethearts, or darlings, or delicious apples of their eyes.
He reaches for the empty chair but hesitates right before he pulls it out. We act like we don’t see it.
“So, how’s school, Sope?” he says, smiling at me after he settles in.
“And the teacher that was giving you trouble?”
“Really?” He laughs and takes a bite from his yam. “How come you didn’t tell me?”
“You weren’t here.”
He pauses then shifts in his seat. “Okay. Okay. Understandable,” he says, nodding.
I don’t even need to look at my mum to sense the bad eye she’s giving me.
“Sope?” she calls me.
“Bola, it’s fine. Don’t worry,” he says.
She ignores him and turns her attention back to me. “We agreed no wahala, so behave.”
I stuff eggs into my mouth. “I am.”
She picks up her fork, and he focuses back on me, but before he launches into another question, I scarf down more food until eggs start to spill from the corners of my mouth. He must take the hint because he looks away from me, turns over to my mum, then realizes his error and faces his meal. Silence finds its seat back at our table.
I pick up the juice carton and pour some into his glass, hoping the sour taste does the work for me and lets him know just how awful life has been without him these last few weeks.
“This would be the best thing for our family,” he’d said.
The juice rushes past the halfway mark on the glass.
A divorce isn’t always bad, Sope.
I’m still going to come for our Saturday breakfasts.
What use is it if you won’t be here for dinner?
I pour and pour until the juice bursts past the brim and cascades over the sides of the glass. My hands are shaking, and the liquid is spilling everywhere.
“Sope!” my mum calls out, and I jerk my hand off the now-empty carton.
I glance at the tablecloth— it bleeds purple.
My dad is looking at me, his eyes livid, right eyebrow twitching in that way it does when he’s angry. This is the same man with such a hatred for messiness that he would yell whenever my shoes dragged in any dirt from outside. But this isn’t his house anymore, so I stare right back at him, daring him, almost begging him, to yell, to get mad, to act like he’s still my father and not a random stranger who just pops in, but he clenches his jaw and looks down at his plate—saying nothing.
“What’s wrong with you?” my mum shouts at me.
I turn and pick up my fork, trying to breathe through the growing tightness in my chest. I know she’s restraining herself. If this were a couple of weeks ago, she would scold me, and I would cry, then my dad, my only best friend, would tell her to stop, and she would. But I’m crying now, and no one’s saying stop.
I stab another piece of yam with my fork, piercing fresh four-by-four dot patterns on it, and paying no attention to the eye signals and head movements happening above me. They always used to communicate like this, when they were happy and in love, but now they’re neither, so what’s the point?
After a while, my mum’s shoulders relax, and she picks up her silverware, my dad following suit.
We eat in silence, ignoring the juice dripping on the floor. Mother, daughter, father—three parts of a puzzle that will never fit together again, but it’s Saturday morning, so we have to pretend that when my dad walks back out that door, he won’t take the missing piece of our family with him.
Olabisi Aishat Bello is an aspiring biomedical engineer from Oyo State, Nigeria, currently studying chemical engineering. Despite her passion for science, she has always loved the fluidity and joy writing grants her, and she hopes to make an impact in society with this gift and overall devotion to making the world a better place. She loves writing both poetry and fiction, and you can find her works in the Kalahari Review, the Neurological Literary Magazine, the Open Culture Collective, the African Writers, among others. You can follow her on Twitter @OlabisiBA.